The closeness of the special election convention for State Senate in the 39th district likely signals another close race when Republican county committee gathers again to fill State Sen.-elect Holly Schepisi’s soon-to-be vacant State Assembly seat.
Schepisi defeated Assemblyman Bob Auth by just eight votes, 111-103, in a close and bitter contest to fill the seat left vacant after Gerald Cardinale died on February 20 at age 86.
She could take her seat as early as Monday, when the Senate is set to hold a quorum call. Her resignation from the Assembly seat she’s held since 2011 will trigger a special election convention within 7 to 35 days.
Anticipating that either Schepisi or Auth – or both – would give up their seats to run for Cardinale’s seat, four Republicans are already running for Assembly: Dr. John Azzariti, a Saddle River councilman; Upper Saddle River Councilwoman Deanne DeFuccio; Oakland Councilman Russell Talamini; and Closter Mayor John Glidden.
Arizziti had been allied with Schepisi, while DeFuccio and Talamini were planning to run on a primary ticket with Auth.
It will be up to the two county chairs, Jack Zisa of Bergen and Peter Murphy of Passaic, to set the date of the next special election convention.
Zisa has the option of setting the convention to award the organization line for Senate and Assembly in the June primary either before special election or after.
An eight-vote margin shows some residual strength of the Cardinale political team – the senator’s widow endorsed Auth, and doesn’t necessarily empower Schepisi to dictate who will fill her seat on a short-term basis.
While it’s not clear who will fill Schepisi’s seat on an interim basis, it’s also not clear what Auth will do.
The four-term incumbent and former Cardinale legislative aide ran strong enough to hold his Assembly seat if he wants, even if Team Schepisi tries to deny him the organization line.
But Auth has not yet announced if he wants to stay in the Assembly, or if he wants to mount an off the line challenge to Schepisi in the June Republican primary.
He could decide to stay in the Assembly and put his energies behind securing the second seat for his ally, DeFuccio.
On Monday, Auth attempted to persuade Schepisi to sign a unity pledge that would see the loser of Tuesday’s convention run for Assembly. Schepisi did not agree, and it’s not clear if Auth is obligated to honor a pledge his opponent never signed.